Doctors are universally recognised as healers. They reduce our pain, show empathy towards our worries and ‘fix’ us so that we can live our lives happily and healthily…but in the UK our doctors are hurting. Their worries are mounting and there is a growing sense that there is no one there to help them in their corner.

There is a reoccurring list of doctors’ symptoms arising in academic journals, the media, national conferences, government policies and most importantly from the mouths of doctors themselves. These include burnout, sickness, stress, fatigue, depression and disaffection with their chosen career. Junior Doctors in particular are struggling with the constant pull of service exacerbating the situation by being to the detriment of good training.

Despite the increasing spotlight being placed on these issues it has been difficult to pin down a solution. It boils down to the omnipresent conundrum within the NHS which is: how to improve both patient experience and doctors’ working conditions on a budget, which like the medical workforce itself is shrinking.

In a political and organisational landscape where a large part of our workforce supply is potentially soon to be cut off[1]; where it is approximated 1 in 5 doctors are leaving the profession[2] and many more are moving to work abroad where they hope to find more manageable work-life balance.

Cindy Jo Allen from the Virginia Mason Institute has remarked that ‘often in healthcare we hire more people, believing that is the issue, but really we are just hiring more people to waste more time[3]. Whilst it is well documented that the UK is hitting a workforce low, are we managing our workforce and demand efficiently and what impact is this having on doctor burnout? Realistically the answer is no and the impact is frequent and negative. Understandably this is a big cause for concern that needs addressing with immediate effect. Previously inaction could be put down to a lack of understanding and/or knowledge as to how best to tackle the issue, but we are now far from those days, we have the knowledge and toolsets to manage workforce effectively. This sentiment is echoed by Lord Carter who expressed that during trust visits, ‘despite the national electronic staff record (ESR), many trusts did not have a full picture of where all their staff are and what they are doing – which is critical if trusts are to optimise their resource [4].

This lack of visibility over the who, what and where’s relating to staff is vital to capacity and demand management. Allocate’s HealthMedics software range specialises in providing insight on desktop, tablet and mobile platforms. Without access to this real-time data, rota gaps will continue to go unfilled and patient safety will continue to be in jeopardy.

We believe there can be a win-win situation for doctors and those managing doctors. Our operational management solutions MedicOnline and MedicOnDuty have been designed for doctors, to empower them with flexibility and visibility over their activity and their colleagues’, in order to not only make their own working lives easier but also engage with the issues relating to demand that so often risks patient safety.

Going forward trusts should incorporate these goals into their plan of action if they are not already:

  • Reduce waste i.e. doctors’ time
  • Align skills and tasks
  • Understand the gaps in demand
  • Reduce variation
  • Engage clinicians

The opportunities associated with HealthMedics lies in more than just the financial and productivity benefits for trusts:

Imagine if you could give doctors several additional hours per week for personal time… with MedicOnline’s iCal integration that is essentially what you will be granting them. Doctors have the ability to easily sync their rotas to their electronic diaries whether that be on iPhone, android phone or into an Outlook calendar rather than wasting valuable personal time coordinating and manually updating their diaries.  They can also choose to share the link with anyone else i.e. family members, medical secretaries and babysitters.

Imagine if doctors could swap their shifts on their mobile… with MedicOnDuty this is a reality. MedicOnDuty offers doctors the flexibility to swap their shift with another with the same skill set with the assurance of safe cover owing to system rules. It’s a great way of giving doctors ownership of their own working arrangements whilst maintaining cover and patient safety, without any additional administrative burden.

These are merely two aspects of HealthMedics products that deliver doctors with greater control over their work-life balance. Fouad Atallah et al. in ‘Please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others: a call to arms to battle burnout’ states that doctors are so busy putting their patients first that it is at the detriment to their own health, both physical and mental. However ‘optimizing work schedules to allow an adequate work-life balance has the potential to reduce stress’[5]  and alleviate the accumulating pressure of maintaining high professional standards.

Reducing burnout amongst doctors should be a priority with research indicating that clinicians with burnout are more likely to:

  • make errors
  • provide suboptimal care
  • reduce patient satisfaction
  • participate in avoidance behaviours
  • be associated with higher levels of absenteeism
  • report in sick
  • leave the profession

All of which at a trust level endangers patient safety and disrupts workflow and productivity levels which are costly to the trust. If the NHS can lower burnout and its symptoms you can foresee what savings could be made based on the Carter report’s statistic that ‘just a 1% improvement in sickness absence equates to £280m in staff costs – without accounting for lower dependence on agency staff and reduced cancellations’.

In the same way that improving doctors’ work-life balance through flexible workforce management is conducive to doctors themselves and those managing them, engagement of staff is predicted to be equally transformative. Wilmar Schaufeli argues that ‘The process of burnout starts with the wearing out of engagement’[6] and thus by keeping staff engagement high burnout can be combatted and the contagious nature of the syndrome could be contained. It is with this aim of engaging staff and providing a provision of feedback that Allocate designed the StaffEngage solution – a mobile sms process that uses event driven data from MedicOnDuty to target intelligent, timely and effective staff communications. StaffEngage knows who is on every shift and has the ability to ask a staff member (i.e doctor/locum) who has just finished a duty a few questions about their experience. Responses are confidential and anonymous, giving doctors the opportunity to express their opinions and feel supported by their trust which could be instrumental in reducing stress and burnout developing.

If you have questions about how Allocate can help why not request more information or book an appointment. We can help you tackle these issues moving forward to assist you and your doctors. Click here find out more about Allocate’s HealthMedics solutions.

[1] Brexit’s potential impact

[2]O’Dwyer, Sabrina. ‘Why Do Doctors Become Unwell, Disaffected, Afraid to Speak Up, and Leave?’. Leaders in Healthcare 2016. ACC Liverpool, Liverpool. 01 Nov. 2016. Lecture.

[3]Allen, Cindy Jo. “How Leaders and Consultants Can Transform Healthcare Culture Together.” Leaders in Healthcare 2016. ACC Liverpool, Liverpool. 01 Nov. 2016. Lecture

[4] Lord Carter of Coles. ‘Operational productivity and performance in English NHS acute hospitals: Unwarranted variations’. An independent report for the Department of Health. February 2016

[5] Fouad Atallah et al., ‘Please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others: a call to arms to battle burnout’, American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology , Volume 215 , Issue 6 , 731.e1 – 731.e6

[6] Schaufeli WB, Leiter MP,Maslach C. Burnout: 35 years of research and practice. Career Development International 2009;14:204-20.

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